Fixing And Saving Kenilworth Park

Our River: The Anacostia

825
Riverfront next to the Athletic Fields

Last November the National Park Service issued a document for public review and comment titled “Proposed Plan for Cleanup of the Kenilworth Park Landfill Site”.   Comments are due by February 10.  For those who might be confused, this is not the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, but 130 acres of land that has had various recreational uses in recent decades.  It lies between the site of the old PEPCO power plant and the Aquatic Gardens and its main entrance is an extension of Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue.  It was the City’s main solid waste landfill from 1942 to 1970.

After many years of study by the National Park Service, Congress has legislated to divide the property.  The Park Service will keep the third of the acreage that lies south of Watts Branch and manage it as a natural area.  It will turn the northern two-thirds over to the City to be managed as an active recreation area much as it has been used, but with the addition of new soil cover to better protect the users from remnants of the landfill.  The southern area will provide for the Anacostia River Trail to pass along the water’s edge, replacing the current trail, which runs around the inland edge of the acreage and passes through residential neighborhoods. This proposal is Option 3 among five considered in the Proposed Plan.

There are three major findings in the Proposed Plan.  First, the areas to be under active recreational use (the northern acreage to be turned over to the City) require a covering of new soils at least one foot deep with the top half of a quality to support grasses and other native groundcover.  Second, the areas for natural and wildlife use (the southern acreage to be kept by the Park Service) can be supported with existing soil and water conditions.  Finally, the site is not currently a significant on-going source of contaminants to Anacostia River water or sediments.  If there are contaminated sediments in the River near the property, they will be handled by the Anacostia River Sediment Project.

The Park Service is in charge of the Proposed Plan and the clean-up activities, but once the restored portion of the acreage is transferred to the City it gets more complicated.  DC Parks and Recreation will manage the property, the City Department of Transportation has the lead on the Trail location and construction, and the Department of Energy and Environment covers any issues on or near the River.  For example, there may be interest in restoring wetland and other natural areas that preceded the use as a landfill.   And once in the City’s hands, there may be interest in improving access to the River for boating and fishing and even swimming.  All those decisions lie in the future; the job of the current Proposed Plan is to define and carry out the clean-up of the soils and any associated water issues.

A Plan 20 Years in the Making
The overall effort has been in motion for over 20 years.  From 1998 to 2002 the Park Service reviewed historical information and collected samples from the site.  Further Remedial Investigations were carried out in 2007-2008 to identify the extent of contamination and threats to human health and the environment.  A Feasibility Study and Proposed Plan were completed in 2012 to evaluate alternatives to address the surface and underground contamination.  After consideration of public comments, the Park Service decided in 2013 to defer selection of a remedy for the site until additional investigations, primarily focused on groundwater, were completed.  These studies were carried out from 2013 to 2019 in conjunction with a proposed plan.

With regard to future use, it was also decided that with the 2004 Congressional order to split the parcel into two parts, the southern piece would be for natural resource-based recreation and the northern for the continuation of sports and related recreation.  The Park Service has determined that only those areas for active recreation such as sports fields require the clean soil cap cover.  The result of all this was the November 2020 Proposed Plan for Cleanup that is the subject of the current review and that will lead to the Final Plan after the close of the public review on February 10.

You may want to get hold of a copy of Proposed Plan, look it over, and possibly provide comments and further information to the Park Service by the February 10 deadline.  The overall website for the Kenilworth Park is go.nps.gov/KenilworthSite.  To be added to the e-mail distribution list contact the Project Manager, Donna Davies at donna_davies@nps.gov.  Her phone is 202-359-3234.  The mailing address is VHB Metro DC, LLC; 1001 G St. N.W. Suite 1125; Washington, DC 20001;  Attn: KPL Proposed Plan Public Comments. Or comment online at www.nps.gov/anac/learn/management/kpls.htm.

So now is really your last chance to weigh in with your ideas and preferences.

Let’s all work together to get the best results for everyone who wants to use this grand and beautiful space along Our River, the Anacostia.

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, and the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  He also serves on the board of Friends of the National Arboretum and on Citizen Advisory Committees for the Chesapeake and the Anacostia.